Every fighter who makes it to the UFC does so by traveling a path all their own.
While there is no clear-cut or guaranteed road which leads to the doors of the Octagon, the evolution of the sport has brought light into places once uncertain and unknown. If an athlete puts in the work and finds success on smaller stages and regional scenes, there is a high probability the biggest opportunity in mixed martial arts will present itself in some form or fashion. Yet, for every competitor that finds a place on the UFC roster, there are hundreds who faded out along the way, making it crystal clear the journey isn’t fit for everyone.
Fighters have been competing under the UFC banner for the past 20 years, but it’s likely that very few have taken quite the same route Dashon Johnson has traveled.
The Fontana, California native knew from an early age the trenches of combat were where he would find his calling. There was just something about the process of excelling and determining supremacy through competition that lit a fire so intense it pushed him forward and further. “Flyboy” would spend his high school years testing the wills of others on the gridiron and wrestling mats, and he found success and acclaim in both avenues. Johnson’s wrestling prowess carried him to the collegiate ranks, but he would eventually put the singlet aside when a “sweeter science” came to call.
After an impressive run where he won his first 11 bouts in the amateur ranks, Johnson made the decision to turn pro as a boxer in 2008. He spent the next four years plying his trade whenever and wherever he could, and often times this meant taking the short end of the proverbial stick where matchmaking was concerned. The sport of boxing is notorious for the manner in which fighters are groomed, as their opponents are hand-picked until a certain amount of status can be obtained.
To stack things in their fighter’s favor, managers and promoters will bring in fighters with lopsided records into their athlete’s hometown to build a proper showcase. In this equation, the man brought into town is figured to be the lamb led to slaughter - and in most cases - that is exactly how things play out.
Fortunately for Johnson, he’s never cared much for where or when it happens…just that it happens is what matters. He’s simply about getting after what he’s chasing and he will take the fight anywhere he can get it.
“I don’t care where the fight happens; I’m just happy I got the call,” Johnson said. “When I was boxing and taking a bunch of fights on short notice, I was taking a lot of fights in my opponent’s backyard, and I was pulling off upsets. One time I was scheduled to fight an MMA bout on a Saturday, but got a call to fight an unbeaten middleweight in Canada on Friday, the day before my other fight. I actually went up there on 24-hour notice, knocked the guy out in the 7th round of a 10-round fight. Then I flew down the next day and won my MMA fight by submission. That was a lot of work to put in the span of 24 hours, but I didn’t want to turn down either opportunity.”
With a proven boxing acumen and marked experience in the wrestling realm, Johnson had no trouble adapting to his new environment of MMA. The Californian proved to be a fast learner as he quickly picked up a string of victories that served to build solid buzz around his name. That said, the big show was yet to call, and Johnson continued to dabble in the squared circle while he forged ahead in MMA.
While the process was demanding, the hard work eventually paid off as he finally received the call he had been waiting for. He will face fellow promotional newcomer Jake Mathews at UFC Fight Night: Te Huna vs. Marquardt, and his first showing inside the Octagon will be the culmination of years spent proving his worth inside the fires of combat. It is the moment he’s been waiting for, and Johnson is confident he’ll make the most of it.
“I’m ecstatic to be making my UFC debut,” Johnson said. “It’s a dream come true and has been a long time coming for me. I spent a lot of time in boxing, had my fair share of setbacks, but I kept pushing forward. In boxing, I was taking a lot of short notice fights, things weren’t going my way, so I picked up MMA. Ever since I started this sport, the UFC is where I wanted to get to. I had some success early. I won my first nine fights but it still wasn’t happening. But then I finally got the call and it brought tears to my eyes.
“I was an all-state wrestler in high school and the transition to MMA wasn’t a huge reach,” he added about the move from boxing to MMA. “Any sport I’ve ever committed myself to I’ve always picked things up really well. With having a background in boxing and wrestling, everything fell into place and lined up quickly. My experience in boxing really played a big part when it came to the fight, being in the cage, staying calm and going the distance if I have to. I’ve always strived to be the best in whatever I’m doing.”
Despite getting off to a hot start in his MMA career, Johnson’s years of boxing experience told him that he needed a change of scenery if he wanted to shift gears on his skill set. With that change in mind, the 26-year-old packed up shop in Escondido and made way for the fighting Mecca of the world otherwise known as Las Vegas.
“I’ve relocated my training to Las Vegas and it has been great,” Johnson said. “Throughout my time in combat sports I’ve learned you really have to push yourself if you want to improve your game and I’m getting that here. My time out in Escondido was okay, but I knew I needed to step things up to get to the next level…and this was before I even got the call from the UFC. I switched teams and camps to prepare me to compete at this next level.”
While his first showing under the UFC banner will present a unique sense of pressure, Johnson will also face the added challenge of facing Mathews on a battleground close to his opponent’s home. The “Octagon Jitters” are a factual phenomenon, and that situation can be amplified when the fighter walking out is the focal point of the crowd’s resentment.
Nevertheless, these circumstances are nothing new where Johnson is concerned. His years of combat sports experience has taken him around the globe and back, with many of those scraps taking place where his opponent is most comfortable. Johnson acknowledges that both he and Mathews will be facing pressure with promotional debuts, but believes his track record will give him the edge on Saturday.
“Fighting in my opponent’s backyard is something I’m used to and have learned to just deal with,” Johnson said. “I’m just happy I got the call. I really don’t care where it’s at. Hopefully, I can go there, put on a great performance and get the win.
“We are both making our UFC debuts, but I feel I have an advantage in this fight. I know I haven’t faced elite-level competition yet in MMA, but in boxing, I fought a lot of high-caliber opponents. I’ve faced former champions and up-and-coming prospects. I’ve fought Olympic medalists on short notice and I think I have an edge over Jake in the experience department. This fight is close to his home and he’s going to feel more comfortable, but at the end of the day, experience will play a factor. If I stick to my game plan I’m going to get my hand raised.”
To watch UFC Fight Night: Te Huna vs. Marquardt exclusively on UFC Fight Pass on Saturday, June 28, sign up here
Dashon Johnson: Newcomer in Name Only
"I don’t care where the fight happens; I’m just happy I got the call." - Dashon Johnson